Are Colleges With Low Graduation Rate Bad and Why

When building a college list, most graduating high school students check out the acceptance rate of a school before deciding whether or not they should apply to it — the higher the figure they see, which is expressed in percent, the better their chances of getting an acceptance letter.

But should you also take into account the graduation rate of an institution to determine if it’s worthy of being shortlisted? Does a low graduation rate make your chances of graduating low?

A low graduation rate may or may not be bad. In some instances, it can be associated with the low satisfaction of the students with the program, teachers, academic support and campus life. However, a low graduation rate can also be linked to the students’ socioeconomic status and drive to succeed.

Prior to considering or disregarding an institution based on its graduation rate, read on.

Just about everything you need to know about a low graduation rate will be talked about in this article. By the time you get to the concluding paragraph, you will be able to decide better if you should turn your back on your dream college just because its graduation rate is not as high as your other choices.

graduation rate

How is the Graduation Rate Determined?

The graduation rate is calculated by dividing the number of college students graduating within the six-year timeframe by the number of enrolled students. In the determination of the graduation rate at a college or university, only the number of full-time undergraduate students is taken into account.

It’s no secret that a bachelor’s degree is also referred to as a four-year degree.

Despite the moniker, the majority of undergraduate students in the US complete their program after six years — the average six-year graduation rates at public and private schools are 62% and 68%, respectively.

And speaking of which, these days, most colleges and universities provide the public with their six-year graduation rates rather than their four-year graduation rates. Whether or not students applying to them are aware of this, based on an NBC News report, nine out of ten freshmen students pursuing a bachelor’s degree think they will finish in four years.

Often resort to checking out a school’s Common Data Set (CDS) to determine its graduation rate? Well, the figure you see in the CDS is actually the six-year graduation rate.

It’s important to note that only full-time undergraduate students are included in the graduation rate’s computation.

This means that part-time students trying to complete a bachelor’s program are excluded. This also means that transferees, whether transferring out or transferring in, are excluded. A school’s graduation rate is also determined without taking into account the quality of the students, which can impact their ability to graduate on time.

Because of the many different things that are disregarded in computing the graduation rate, it is a metric that many experts dispute and many graduating high school students do not consider.

How College Experience Influences the Graduation Rate

Many things can affect the graduation rates of colleges and universities. One of them is the overall experience of the students themselves with the program, faculty members, staff, academic support, facilities and campus culture. However, these factors can have a higher impact on the retention rate.

It’s not just a bachelor’s degree that can help shape your future career but your overall college experience, too, as it can equip you with all sorts of knowledge and skills that all contribute to making you a well-rounded person.

And because of this, the graduation rate might be one of the factors you consider when building a college list.

Well, you’re right — the level of satisfaction undergraduate students have with the colleges or universities they are attending can contribute to the graduation rate. As a general rule of thumb, satisfaction level-wise alone, schools with very happy and pleased attendees may have some of the highest graduation rates around.

But if you are concerned with your college experience, don’t focus on the graduation rate alone — it’s a good idea that you also look into a school’s retention rate, which you can easily find in its CDS.

Simply put, the retention rate is the percentage of first-time, first-year undergraduate students who return to the very same institution the following term. So, in other words, the higher the retention rate, the more students come back to the same school to enroll and give working on a bachelor’s degree for another semester one more shot.

The following are some retention rate figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

  • 81% – the average retention rate at public colleges
  • 97% – the average retention rate at selective public colleges
  • 82% – the average retention rate at private non-profit colleges
  • 96% – the average retention rate at selective private non-profit colleges
  • 63% – the average retention rate at private for-profit colleges

Like the graduation rate, the retention rate can be greatly influenced by the level of satisfaction of the students. However, that’s just one factor — it can also be affected by things such as the steep cost and lack of academic skills.

How Socioeconomic Status Influences the Graduation Rate

Generally speaking, the graduation rate is lower at public schools and community colleges than at private institutions. It has something to do with the fact that the majority of their students are from low-income backgrounds. The graduation rate also tends to be lower for first-generation students.

Above, we established the fact that the level of student satisfaction can impact a school’s graduation rate. We also verified that it can affect the retention rate, too.

poor family
Family finances can impact college graduation

But no matter how happy undergraduate students are with their overall college experience and how determined they are to become bachelor’s degree holders, it means nothing if they cannot pay for the steep cost of college. It’s exactly for this reason why public institutions tend to have lower graduation rates than private ones.

Needless to say, the poorer the students, the less likely it is for them to graduate from college.

It’s nice for students whose parents did not go to college to dream of being the first in the family to have a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, many of them will fail to graduate either on time or at all.

According to data from the First Generation Foundation, nearly 90% of first-generation students from low-income families in the US leave college before they earn a bachelor’s degree. As a matter of fact, more than 25% of them quit after their first year of college, which is four times higher than the dropout rate for high-income, second-generation students.

Public schools and community colleges were created in order to make a degree accessible to low-income students. It’s not just the tuition, sadly, that’s low at these institutions but the financial aid awards, too.

Combined with the fact that most public colleges and universities do not have a selective admissions process, which means that even low-performing students with very little chances of succeeding in college could get admitted, it isn’t surprising why many undergraduate students quit before they graduate.

Meanwhile, the average graduation rate at the Ivy Leagues is 96% — it’s a no-brainer since more than two-thirds of students there are from rich families and almost all attendees are high-performing ones.

Just Before You Cross a School Out of Your College List

If you feel that the graduation rate is an important factor to consider in the college list-building process, feel free to consider it. However, make sure that you compare apples to apples — take into account the graduation rate if and only if you are choosing between two public schools or two private schools.

Similarly, it’s also a good idea to compare the graduation rates of institutions with the same level of competitiveness (i.e., two competitive public schools or two competitive private schools).

Related Questions

What college major has the highest dropout rate?

According to a study, Computer Science has the highest dropout rate. As a matter of fact, over 10% of students majoring in it tend to surrender before earning their degrees. Another major with a high dropout rate is Advertising — almost 8% of students majoring in tend to quit college before graduation.

Why do many first-generation college students fail to succeed in college?

Statistics show that more than 30% of first-generation college students quit college after one to three years from initial enrollment. Some of the main reasons behind their failure to graduate from college include lack of support and inequality in resource accessibility.

Read Also: Is Going to College Worth It?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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